advice

Own your failure

Rejection seems to be a huge part of a starry-eyed graduate’s life.

The sooner we accept this fact, along with all our student debt, the better. Prior to graduation, you might have experienced rejection applying to university, a part-time job, or asking someone out. Without undermining these disappointments, I think there’s something unique about graduate rejection. It’s the anticipation. You’ve worked at your degree for three years, you sat at school for a decade before that. It’s all been leading up to this very moment. The start of your real adult life. You have your 2.1 (maybe a golden ticket First) – the world is yours for the taking. You fire off cover-letters left, right and centre. You’re hopeful. You wait, and wait, and wait…

‘The managers have completed their short-listing process and I regret to inform you that on this occasion you have not been selected to attend an interview.’

If I’m completely honest, prior to these past few months, I haven’t been rejected that often. I’m not boasting. I haven’t really put myself out there enough. So when the dream I’d been living and breathing since school came crashing down in February, I took it pretty hard. There’s a prestigious university I’ve always wanted to study at. I didn’t apply at A-level because my grades weren’t up to scratch. But as an undergraduate, I’d upped my game (I found out this week that I’m set to graduate with a 78% average). Whenever I dragged myself to the library at 9pm, to put in a few hours on my latest essay, my motivation was getting onto that dream Masters. So when I got rejected for, in hindsight, a pretty weak research proposal, I lost all motivation. The timing was awful. I was mid-dissertation. I had a 4,000 word essay due next week.

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Since then, I’ve boosted my grades again. I somehow pulled off 83% on my dissertation and an 88% on that very essay. I’ve also decided a Masters might not be for me. My initial backup plan was publishing. I sent off at least a dozen applications for assistant jobs and internships. One by one, I was rejected. I’d been so set on continuing with academia, that I didn’t have any of the publishing experience necessary to even make it to an interview. Coming to terms with this, assessing my strengths and weaknesses, my current idea is digital marketing. I have some relevant experience. This blog itself reflects my interest in social media and content production. You know what, I think I’d be good at marketing. It feels assuring to at least have something resembling a plan. Or maybe I’ll reapply for that Masters… I’m staying open-minded.

What have I learnt from all this? Well I’ve gotten better at writing cover-letters for one thing. But I’ve also learnt that it’s okay to feel dejected, disappointed, even angry following rejection – for a little while that is. It just means that you cared. It means that you worked hard for something you wanted. Feeling and doing the same might well pay off next time. It’s even okay to mope around and feel like you deserved for things to have worked out. You might well have deserved that promotion or that position. But the problem is other people probably did too. The key thing to accept is that the universe doesn’t owe you a job or a First class degree or even a girlfriend.

An air of entitlement will get you nowhere.

Rejection isn’t inherently a bad thing. Sure, you might miss out on some great opportunities, but it can help you duck lousy ones too. It can inspire (okay, maybe force) a change of direction or a new approach you might never have otherwise considered. From recent experience, getting rejected is also a whole lot easier when you have other options on the table too. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you ask out each and every girl in your seminar class, but, providing they don’t all find out, you’ve increased your odds.

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We do have the time

We need to stop lying to ourselves. Last time I checked, there are 24 hours in a day. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. How are you spending yours? Let’s do the maths. We’re all sleeping through a whole bunch of them. If you’re one of those people who manages to exercise before breakfast or endures a soul-destroying commute, you might be sleeping for a meagre 6 hours. You have my respect. If you’re one of my sloth-like housemates, or, in other words, a student, you could be kipping away upwards of 12 hours. For most people—the grey majority, the unremarkable average—let’s call it 8 hours in the land of nod.

For the sake of making a point, let’s say you have 16 hours left in which you are, at least relatively, awake. Most people have, have had, or will regrettably end up, in a 9 to 5 job. The ‘working week’ might be five sevenths of your regular week, but it’s important to remember that your ‘working day’ is probably about half of your actual day. You have about 8 hours left then. A couple in the morning and half a dozen in the evening. Let’s take away 2 for commuting (though if you’re lucky it will be a lot less) and another 2 for meal times and chores.

You have 4 hours left. That’s a really long time.

How are you spending those leftover hours? The chances are you’re sat in front of the television, binge-watching Netflix, a football match in which your team isn’t even playing, or the first film you found channel-flicking, having already missed the first half. If I asked you why, you’d say it’s because you’re tired and just want to just switch off after work. And that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong that. It’s your leisure time—do whatever you want. But don’t say you don’t have any time. You haven’t seen your friends in weeks. You’re on your third consecutive takeaway meal. You haven’t exercised properly since school. Don’t say you haven’t had time.

If you don’t like your job, that’s to say, if you don’t live to work, and this unfortunately seems the case for the majority of people today, then your life is what goes on around the office. It happens in those 4 hours in the evening, on your weekends and your 28 days of annual holiday. It isn’t easy to lead this productive double life. Some people can juggle two jobs, or do volunteer work in their spare time, but most of us can’t—or at least don’t. I’m yet to even start my 40 to 50 year working life so I’m not lecturing anybody. Soon enough, I’ll be in the 9 to 5 machine and then we’ll see how easy it is to write something like this when I’m falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm. That’s why I’m writing it now, as a reminder to myself that I will have a life outside of my job.

‘I do have time’ is a mindset. Getting more value out of those 4 hours is a life project. Something to think about and work on every day. Maybe you’ll play badminton for an hour with friends tonight after work, and then progress to watch three back-to-back episodes of House of Cards.

That’s progress.

 

The future freaks me out

I started this blog on 6th August 2013. I’d just finished Sixth Form and was nervously awaiting my A-levels results, desperate to find out whether or not I had made it into university. QFL was a project that was about keeping busy. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and far too much to worry about. I needed a distraction. It was therapy.

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This time last week, I handed in my final year dissertation at university. I have one exam left before my sixteen years of education are over. In honesty, I’m not taking this particularly well. I do have some friends that want to leave. Everyone is a bit fed up of the work at this point, myself included, which I wasn’t really expecting, having loved studying up until now. The freedom that comes with earning money will be a huge change, of course, for the better. But I don’t want to leave. I’d redo fifty assignments for another three years. I don’t want to leave people behind. Or maybe I don’t want to get left behind.

I celebrated finishing my dissertation pretty hard. Three big nights out. I woke up at 7am Saturday morning, having gotten in three hours earlier. This wasn’t a normal hangover. I felt sick. But I also had cold sweats and my heart was racing. It was like waking up from a bad dream although I couldn’t calm myself down. In short, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. In hindsight, it was likely caffeine-induced. My fault. I’d had coffees and jägerbombs and all sorts the night before, to try and perk myself up. So I crashed. Weeks of stress, followed by days of overdoing it, caught up with me. I sat wide awake for an hour and just wallowed, thinking, reflecting, worrying about everything. Talking to a friend about it later, he said something we all need to hear sometimes: It’s okay to worry about the future you know”.

I needed to get where I was Saturday morning because now I can get out. No alcohol for at least a week. A healthier diet. From tomorrow, I get up at a respectable hour. I’m writing a bucket-list of things to do before I leave. Revision starts for that final exam: my last hurdle. I’m going to buy a bunch of books I’ve wanted to read. Start watching films again. I have a few weeks left yet and I’m going to make the most of them, spending time with the people who make leaving so hard.

And, quite frankly, I think I need to start blogging again.

My advice about giving bad advice

The thing about “words of wisdom” is that they aren’t very, well, wise. In times of difficulty or struggle you might turn to someone for advice or reassurance, and there are certain kinds of things you really don’t want or need to hear. I am as guilty as anyone else at dispensing useless advice, often only making the situation worse against the greatest of intentions. My motivation in writing this post therefore is to help us all suck a little less at helping each other out. I will identify some examples of what not to say, and unhelpfully overlook what you could say instead…

You are leaving the house to go to a job interview. Just as you close the front door your mum calls out from the hallway: “just be yourself!” You are at a bar and you really want to go over and talk to this girl. Your best-friend hands you a pint and says, you guessed it: “just be yourself!” This rubbish piece of advice has to be among the most overused. It crops up everywhere. The problem is most people have a pretty bleak opinion of themselves, and the counsel only reminds them of this. You are now thinking on your way to that job interview: why on earth would they hire someone as clumsy and unreliable as me? You are now making your way across the bar overly self-conscious of the many reasons you are hesitant to approach women in the first place: your ineptness in the realm of conversation and that general crippling social awkwardness. What we have to remember here is also applicable to most of these situations: your advisor is genuinely trying to be nice. When someone tells you to “just be yourself!” it is a compliment paid with all your best qualities in mind. It is just a shame that these ones do not spring to your own mind before your insecurities do…

You sit an exam that didn’t go as smoothly as you had hoped. You are explaining this to your dad later that evening and he says: “well son, you gave it 110%, no regrets”. While this is perhaps about as expressive as your dad stretches to, the advice is awful. You hear “no regrets” uttered over and over again when it comes to failures but it is entirely inappropriate! The fact you know you could have done better in that exam means of course you are regretful. To have no regrets is to be careless. Wielding such a nihilistic attitude towards success will get you nowhere. To regret something is to be thoughtful and proud. These are admirable qualities.

Then it comes to the “110%” (magnify as hyperbolically preferable). Why do we ever think assuring someone they have done their best – or supposedly more than that – in a situation where they weren’t good enough is a reassuring thing to say? The advice can only have two effects: both undesirable. The person who flunked the exam is either depressed by the thought that no matter how much effort they put into revising, they were just incapable of success, and I suppose wasted their time trying. Alternatively, they become depressed by the false counsel: of course they didn’t give 100%, the very notion is impossible. But the empty assurance only entices them to recall, with the unhelpfully critical gift of hindsight, all of the times they should have been studying instead of partying or playing video games. You are making them regret this before telling them not to!

I will finish up with a popular piece of rubbish advice from the older generation to us inexperienced folk. How often have you been told that your current worries (homework, friendships or whatever) “in X number of years will seem insignificant”? That you will look back and think about how trivial they all were and wonder why you ever lost sleep over them. Seriously, parents, carers and teachers, this is not helping! All the intended assurance really does is draw said suffering young person’s attention to the fact their currently not-so-rosy life will only get worse! It goes hand in hand with the phrase “school years are the best of your life”. Great, this is the best it’s going to get?

I urge the older generation to do this wonderful thing humans are capable of called empathy. You were a kid once with worries that were as real to you as bills are now, draw from some of that experience and offer some proper advice – with embarrassing anecdotes please.

Advice does seem to be best when it is delivered from personal experience. I urge you to just think a little bit before you treat your friend/family member’s concern with a useless cliché. If ever in doubt, a hug/encouraging pat on the back goes a long way.

A critical reader knows when to quit

CONFESSION: I am a book-snob. Since the age of around 13 I have predominantly read the books you would find in the quiet – I mean classical or “literature” – section of a library. I am not particularly embarrassed about this. One day it will serve me well in a pub quiz, you just wait…

But I have another confession to make: I am also the kind of reader who tends to feel they have to reach the last page of a book. When coupled with my preference for stories of the ‘chunky classic’ variety, this can often make reading tiresome and even un-enjoyable.

Most recently I struggled through Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I read it assuring myself the whole time that it was going to all come together for me on the next page. It never did. I persevered only so I could tick it off my ‘to read list’. Worth it? Nope.

As a reader you approach a “classic” with a certain set of expectations. You know it has earned its status for a reason; you know there is depth and meaning between the lines. You dive in wanting to enjoy it, wanting to identify every piece of symbolism along the way. Hoping to build up some grand analysis by the time you emerge, so that you can recommend it to all of your friends. But sometimes it just does nothing for you. You find yourself heavily wading through a murky plot, where all the treasure the critics claim to have found is either out of reach, or appears disappointingly glorified. This can often be disheartening, even alienating. ‘What have I missed?’ ‘What did that mean?’

Enough is enough. I am making it my resolution from now on to be more willing to give up on books that aren’t doing much for me, providing they aren’t on my university syllabus that is…

An author has the opening few chapters of a book to convince you that their story is worth a considerable investment of your time. Whenever you pick up a book you are making a purchase: trading your time in hope of an experience of enjoyment and escapism. Like any purchaser, you have a right to be critical and sparing with your investment. If you are unsatisfied after a fair test of their product, you should return it to the shelf and pick up something else. Years ago I abandoned James Joyce’s Ulysses and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. This is not to say they are not brilliant books – I simply wasn’t getting out of them what the authors put into them (I assume I was too young). And at 264,965 and 169,481 words respectively it was the right decision. I probably read five or six ‘normal-size’ books in exchange. I urge you to be a more critical and sparing reader too.

Let’s be quitters together.

An open letter to A. Worrier

FOREWORD: If you’re human, an encompassing demographic of my target-audience, you’re worrying about something, probably late at night in bed. Oops. I’ve just reminded you about that.

Here is my written apology:

A letter

Dear A. Worrier,

I am worrying too. At 18 years old I have recently finished my A-levels. Since then an imaginary piece of paper has been stealing my sleep. More specifically, my exam results, and my future thereafter – will I make it to university? Who knows? Well actually, the examiners who will have already marked our scripts, but I probably shouldn’t think about that…

Or maybe I should. It’s how we worry that counts. The healthiest way is out loud. Opening your mouth is a difficult thing to do. Not true. It is letting others peek into your “box of feelings” that is tough. The metaphor begins…

Firstly, there is the delicate matter of pride. You quietly think it’s beneath you, a sign of weakness, to mention that thing that’s bothering you to that person you know that you should tell… To that, I echo the phrase “pride comes before a fall”. And point out that falling on your arse while still trying to cradle a “box of feelings” all by yourself will result in them being spilt anyway.

But maybe it isn’t pride getting in the way. A more serious tendency is at work. Your motivation in keeping to yourself, subconscious or otherwise, might actually be a selfless one. You feel that to talk about your worries, open the box (this is getting tedious), will only offload and burden them on someone else. An admirable concern – but a flawed one, with consequences.

Keep the box closed and it will pile up into boxes of worry. And I am already regretting this metaphor so we don’t want that. Next thing, your friends and family will notice that you are troubled and suffering. When they do, the unwanted attention begins.  And another side-effect of all this one-person box juggling is that you end up making others feel untrusted, for not confiding in them.

“Where am I going with this?” you ask. “What was my point?” I ask.

Open up your feelings – I mean that box – take a few things out, and it will get lighter.

Yours sincerely,

I. Worry-Too.

Ps. it’s a double-barrelled surname.

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